Anpao was published at a time when people were beginning to realize that American Indians had a “literary” heritage that was well established when the first explorers came to the North American continent. The novel was named a 1978 Newbery Honor Book and received a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award. In addition, it was named a Best Book for Young Adults in 1978 by the American Library Association. With Anpao, Jamake Highwater became the first author to unite tales and legends from a variety of American Indian tribes into a single story.
Highwater continued to explore the history of American Indians and the decline and fall of their world in many of his other books for young adults, including his Ghost House Cycle: Legend Days (1984), The Ceremony of Innocence (1985), I Wear the Morning Star (1986), and Kill Hole (1992). Beginning shortly before the arrival of white people in North America, these partially autobiographical novels follow the story of Amana Bonneville, her daughter, and her grandsons. Like Anpao, Amana, a member of the Blackfeet tribe, sees her people destroyed by disease and the traditions of the past replaced by alcohol and the values of the Europeans.
Along with N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko, James Welch, and Simon J. Ortiz, Highwater is given credit for beginning the writing of serious American Indian fiction. He sees his works as forming a bridge between the private, traditional world of American Indians and the public, often-destructive world of Western Europeans.